Where can you find wisdom?

In the Image

An acquaintance who served in my denomination as a lay preacher once offered an observation that was, I assume, mostly tongue in cheek. “If you’re good at this preaching thing, you can find your lesson in a chapter in the Bible, or in a few verses. And if you’re really good, you only need one word to build a sermon around! Me, I’ve got to use the whole book!”

We preachers chuckle at such observations. Yet the pressure to offer meditations that are authentic and engaging and relevant to the reality of the hearers is a real pressure. Passion and wisdom are used up by Sunday noon, and then there’s a service the following week, and again after that…

As one who functions in this ecclesial world, I sometimes feel dishonest. I have next to no seminary training, and lay claim to the knowledge of a Luddite. Yet, spirituality is and has always seemed like a central part of my existence. And as I began to grow comfortable exploring that world, it came to me that every person is an equally spiritual being, with layers and gifts and holiness to offer.

I visit an old friend in a care home. “James” is appreciative of my time with him, and is soon quoting scripture passages to me, describing how those words inject hope into his often lonely existence. James’ vision is compromised, and reading holy words is a struggle. But he has a vast remembrance of passages throughout the Bible that he shares with me, and we explore the words together to sift through their application. James also has an inventory of television ministry programs that he enjoys, cranked up in volume to accommodate his hearing deficiencies.

I acknowledge that James’ knowledge of the Bible, the words he quotes, the references that come to his lips, those abilities are far beyond mine. I am not that detail kind of guy. I admire those who can quote chapters, perhaps books of scripture from memory. But I’m not envious. There has always seemed to be too many important things to do, rather then force myself into memory work, into remembering words on a page.

Also, my spiritual growth is tied to every facet of my life, and so that energy needs to be apportioned carefully, gently. Certainly, the places that I go for that growth, besides Christian faith supports, has taken me into areas that are perhaps unconventional.  I note in my conversations with James that we sometimes approach life issues from different directions. I see that as a wholesome thing.

I was in conversation with a person who works as a financial advisor. Most of the words and concepts in that world are incomprehensible to me, and I’m reduced to nodding and smiling at (hopefully) the right time.  This advisor made the observation that it is his determination to be aware of global politics, shifting power struggles, which jurisdiction is growing in strength and prosperity, which is receding. Then he expressed annoyance with the media options which are available here in North America. If you listen to CNN, he suggested, you’ll get only a left wing slant. And if you turn to Fox News, you are fed only the most extreme right wing perspectives.

I asked him whether he has found access to a more balanced global view. He told me that much of his news gathering was now through Al Jazeera, based in Qatar. I went home and loaded Al Jazeera onto my phone. I read those headlines and sometimes stories daily. I am reminded that the world is a larger community then we in our blindered North American viewpoints ever realized. There are different ways of interpreting, different ways of reporting, different realities explored. Certainly, as my time with Al Jazeera grows, I see that they too are not politically pure. That’s okay, I am not politically without agenda either. Like my conversations with James where we bring different assumptions to the same conversations, it’s all good. Similarly, it has been fruitful to expand the world where spiritual knowledge is gathered, examined, processed. It has been good to listen to stories of lives being changed, of growth, of humility, of vulnerability. When respect is offered, the stories are released. While wisdom may well come from the prophet Joel, from the tales of Jonah, from the letters of Paul’s journeys, it also comes from the next person you encounter. Offer humility, vulnerability, and you will be blessed.